A Story of Survival Amid Haiti's Growing Death Toll

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Man sits in front of a collpsed Cathedral on Saturday January 16, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Paul Taggart)

Alongside the hundreds of thousands of casualties from the Haiti earthquake, there are even more individual stories that have yet to be told. One of those stories comes from Gabo Arora, who was working with the United Nations in Port-au-Prince on the day the earthquake struck. We hear Gabo's tale of survival and his feelings about returning to the country.

Gabo works as a duty officer for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, which suffered its own staggering toll – fifty lives lost. But he is lucky enough to be in back in New York now, where he lives when he’s not on assignment in the Haitian capital. Thanks to a quirk in his work schedule, Gabo was not at the office on the day of the quake, nor was he in his home. Both his office and home were demolished in the earthquake, but Gabo remained safe under the roof of his gym.


Gabo Arora

Produced by:

Jim Colgan

Comments [26]


Gabo, props to you man, ignore the haters. You decided to live and work to improve living conditions in one of the poorest countries in the world, which is very admirable. And if the thing that stands out the most about you to your critics is that you spend time with the opposite sex, then it says more about them than you.
But you should thank Ex-UN Staff for taking up most of his post with an excerpt from your blog. There's some pretty good writing there that I wouldn't have been introduced to otherwise.

Feb. 01 2010 01:46 PM
Gabo from NYC

My blog has a disclaimer, and is a literary blog focused on artistic expression. This account is fictional, I have never tried caviar! I don't make that much money! Don't be absurd.

I am a writer, I have published other stories, my blog has loads and loads of fictional material. Can't you tell by the style?

So somebody really has it out for me, don't they? Haha. Thanks for reading my blog though.

Feb. 01 2010 12:55 PM
Ex-UN Staff from paris

well, I am privileged, so privileged I can even read mr. ahorars blog, which quite bluntly makes reference to him using the service of a local prostitute, which he seem proud enough to post, THOUGH it is completely forbidden by UN rules, for many and obvious reasons.

Saturday, December 05, 2009:
"A woman is a woman is a woman. Even one who sells her self.

After making love she wants me to fry her eggs. The hunger inside her is deep and true. I offer her the finest Belgian chocolate, prociutto, parmesan cheese, some left over caviar, even. No, none of that, she doesn't know what that is. She just wants fried eggs and looks at all the marvels I put in front of her with indifference.

She ate with that ravenous hunger, the hunger of someone who eats little but wants more, always. Her body was perfect, tight and strong. A body that works to survive is always a healthy body. Nature is perfect that way, it gives so much in poverty and takes so much in wealth. And makes both want to come to the other, to complete each other, master servant, we run to each other, east west, strong weak, the good and the bad, we need each other, each defined by the other, unable to live amongst our own kind."

so Mr. ahorar eats caviar in Haiti ? interesting. [CONTENT EDITED TO REMOVE PERSONAL ATTACK]

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Please note that Gabo's blog contains a disclaimer that says its content is not biographical. While we encourage frank discussion on this website, we will not allow personal attacks and will moderate when necessary.

Please see comment guidelines: http://www.thetakeaway.org/about/comment_guidelines/]

Jan. 31 2010 04:39 PM
tu papa tambien from cali

Hmm, how many of us would be thinking clearly after our coworkers/friends we had seen hours before had been smashed to death by concrete?

Martyrdom might feel good but medical/earthmoving/water/sanitation skills are what they realy needed post earth-quake, not peace-keeping. Can't help no one later if you're dead.

PS anyone who has time to blog on relatively minor postings like this is probably "privileged"

Jan. 30 2010 11:07 PM
al langley

I can't believe all the attention that this guy is getting! All the guy did, as previous poster Ben pointed out, was leave his privileged life in New York for an even more glamorous life in Haiti working for the UN.
But maybe that is an unfair criticism of Gabo. As Kate pointed out, the UN does work under extraordinary conditions there and I am sure poster Ex-UN staffer would agree as an ex-un staffer. Ex-UN staffer also reminds us that this guy shouldn't be heard because we should only listen to people who have first hand knowledge and have worked hard in the country. This Gabo guy has been out of the country for almost a couple of weeks now, that's far too long to listen to him. Good point EX-UN STAFFER, good point.

I think we would all agree that the poster who deserves the highest praise is justiciero. Most people would consider sacrificing time and effort, to work to better a country praiseworthy. But it takes real guts to stand against the majority, to stand against all sensibility and all logic, to call Gabo a coward. Justiciero, you are just like a superhero, anonymous, and in reality, insignificant.

There are so many other postings here that I wish I had to the time to acknowledge, but unfortunately, I don't have the time (I have to post comments on other boards). So to those I didn't mention, heroes like Gordon, misconception, and sherry, kudos to all of you, and kudos to me as well.
For it is people like us, the real heroes, we make comments, and bring attention to all things so other people can fix it.

Some people look at things and say why, we look at things and make comments on them.

Jan. 30 2010 01:03 PM

Dysentery is not a "minor medical problem." People die from it. If he had stayed in Haiti, he would have used precious medical resources that were better allocated to the people who were not able to leave. When his medical needs outweighed the benefits of the help that he could provide, the UN decided that it was more efficient to have him leave.

I can't believe this has to be explained to anyone. Please use your energy in a more productive way if you really care about others. Haranguing an earthquake survivor is not productive.

Jan. 29 2010 04:40 PM

What do all of you critics do for a living? Sales, marketing, corporate slavery? Yes, we all need to earn earn a living to support ourselves and our families. So let me ask you, how many of you work to benefit others or concern yourselves with the saftey, and well-being of the people in a 3rd-world country on a daily basis??? Gabo's work prior to this event alone is worth more than what any of you have contributed to society. Period. Thank him and people like him that are willing to even work in a 3rd-world country. Are you? How many of you are signed up to volunteer there right now? Will you go if you receive training?? The training is available. You morally superior individuals, I expect to hear all of your stories on the radio in the near future. The truth is, his contribution to the less fortunate likely far exceeds most of yours. And for you to sit there criticizing him in the face of disease, rioting, lack of food and lack of water is mind-blowing. Maybe we should also criticize the Haitians whom are stealing from each other and hoarding whatever supplies they get for their families instead of sharing with other needy individuals?

He does sound a bit pretentious in the interview, I will give you that. But it is mostly because of the silly questions asked about what he wore to the gym etc. He was unprepared for the interview, as was the network. But don't be blind-sided by that, you ignorant, elitist snobs.

Jan. 29 2010 02:18 AM
Luke from new york

how come the UN and the US Embassy have time to deal with his petty case of "blood in the stool" while hundreds of thousands died, millions displaced and the entire infrastructure destroyed. somebody really took the time to recommend him the appropriate treatment for his minor health issue ?

Jan. 29 2010 12:56 AM
Dan from new york


"If it was all about instincts, we could send trained monkeys on humanitarian missions and the moment you can not provide them with food or shelter, they will escape into the wilderness. The opposite behavior is called courage, guts, nerves ... In this case that was his duty."
-> is a nonsense comment and one that doesn't belong here. It doesn't make sense and even less a point.

I do believe though, that a person's instincts in such a situation should be to help or to console and not to run off. But then again, give this guy a break. He has lost everything.

Jan. 29 2010 12:38 AM
Sherry from Bombay


"Man by nature has and will always protect himself and his interests in life threating and dire situations. What Gabo did had nothing to do w/ "saving" the people or living by his duty. It in fact, had everything to do w/ instinct (...)."

If he works as a coordinating Duty Officer in Haiti for the UN MINUSTAH mission, he is supposed to protect others and other peoples interests to protect them from and provide relieve in life threatening and "dire" situations."

I agree, sadly enough, that " What Gabo did had nothing to do w/ "saving" the people or living by his duty". He should have though. That was his job, his moral duty, among other.

If it was all about instincts, we could send trained monkeys on humanitarian missions and the moment you can not provide them with food or shelter, they will escape into the wilderness. The opposite behavior is called courage, guts, nerves ... In this case that was his duty.

Jan. 28 2010 09:02 PM
misconception from Kentucky


1. "its just an interview".

Ok. Just an interview. It could possibly change views and opinions, but hey "it is just an interview". On the world wide web. "on a network of globally recognized media institutions like BBC and New York Timesm among others" to quote my predecessor. Ridiculous.

2. "it's short, so don't rush to judgment without knowing the full story".

If you feel the time and space you were given doesn't appropriately reflect your story and as a consequence let's you be misunderstood or misinterpreted, than you shouldn't use that specific format for interviews, if you are so keen to tell your story, which is pretty profane anyway.

3. "My case was registered in both places".

So what ? Is there a Registration for good consciousness or rightful behavior out there ? Can anybody sign up ?

4. "I admire everyone's sacrifice, and understand the emotions flowing on all this, so no offense taken!"

You obiously don't understand the emotions of a tragedy that killed more than 100,000 people. Because if you did, you wouldn't give interviews like this, even if they asked you to. The famous 15 minutes of fame are to be used carefully and with intelligence and maybe u can make an impact. Describing what you wear at a gym, or your rather misplaced literal descriptions of Petionville as Greenwich or the Kaleidoscope of International Aid don't match that. But you still have 9 minutes left. Use seem carefully and sensibly.

5. "I had blood in my stools, and was unable to function".

It's questionable if you would even function without blood in you stools. But your time off in New York probably let's you carefully reflect on that.

Had the opportunity of an interview. Why don't you think before talking. Many people suffer and fight without any media exposition ever and would love to have a chance to present their cause and striving. And you blew it. That is responsibility.

Jan. 28 2010 08:37 PM

You know, it's just an interview, and it's short, so don't rush to judgment without knowing the full story.

It wasn't an "escape", I was advised by the UN's CMS office to go to the US embassy after they realized I had no documentation and needed to get to Miami for medical treatment. I did help out and decided it was time to go when I had blood in my stools, and was unable to function.

I know that part is subtle in the interview, but this was all done under protocol both with the UN and US embassy and goes on to highlight the chaos of those days. My case was registered in both places.

I admire everyone's sacrifice, and understand the emotions flowing on all this, so no offense taken!

Jan. 28 2010 11:17 AM
shaista from Pakistan

Do not aspect same from everyone..............

Jan. 28 2010 06:54 AM
Apollo Batista from Southeast Asia

Funny how a duty officer can choose to go out of duty and abandon work when things go wrong. He should learn a lesson from the Filipino soldier who, after being fished out of Montana's debris, was quickly on his toes to save UN staff and peacekeepers still buried at Christopher.

Jan. 28 2010 02:15 AM
Shiv from Montreal

To those posting negative comments about Gabo. I find it amazing to be saying things like, "another UN worker.. raising his voice" and "It seems he has not fully grasped the responsibility of his duty", from the comfort of your home while sipping on a latte, reading the new york times on your way to a yoga class. Give me a break! for real! Man by nature has and will always protect himself and his interests in life threating and dire situations. What Gabo did had nothing to do w/ "saving" the people or living by his duty. It in fact, had everything to do w/ instinct and responding to the situation accordingly. When the organization one works for is not capable of providing for its employees (ex. food, water, protection against diseases,etc.) and is on the verge of abandoning its workers, what decision does one have to make? Put yourself in his shoes!! You would probably be #$(#($ your pants!

Jan. 28 2010 01:29 AM
Socrates from NYC

This is a great story and one that is true to life. He survived cause he was at the gym waiting for a spinning class! So absurd. Well its great that he made it back to NYC!

Jan. 28 2010 12:22 AM
Gordon from Amsterdam

This interview belongs on a high-school or college radio show not on a network of globally recognized media institutions like BBC and New York Timesm among others.
Truth is he seemingly left his colleagues when they most needed him in a position where he was supposed to coordinate rather than "escape". It seems he has not fully grasped the responsibility of his duty. Maybe this is an important lesson to learn.
Other staff stayed in deplorable conditions awaiting orders and instructions, awaiting guidance on whether to stay or to leave the mission. What this boy has done is shameful, maybe not personally but professionally,

Jan. 27 2010 10:50 PM

These comments are absurd. By your logic, you should not be allowed to comment here since you are privileged enough to be typing at your computer right now. We should only hear the voices of the people who suffered the most. Mr. Arora is telling a story of what he experienced, not trying to win some ridiculous suffering contest.

I think the story is important to hear precisely because he is so open and honest about how his privileged position helped him escape. It highlights what we take for granted as Americans, and holds up a mirror to US. This is what the world is like, and if you don't like it, then do something real about it. Don't just type snide little comments about someone's manliness on a web site. That, my friend, is true cowardice.

Jan. 27 2010 08:38 PM
justiciero from Haiti

I really don't understand your behaivor, a man don't go runing and leaving his team without saying something,
A man would have stay here helping not only the team of work, but helping as more as you can.
I could understand that actitud maybe for a lady, but you are a man.
Finally, don't you know that is prohibited give conferences to the press without authorization from UN.
Well we know that you react and then you start to think.

Jan. 27 2010 06:45 PM
Rachel from DC

Gabo, do not take these comments personally. Inevitably, the bitter and critical take the opportunity to blame individuals at times when they should be blaming larger forces at play. I am happy you survived and happy that you were able to return to your friends and family in New York. Just as I am encouraged that others were there or came in to help. There are enough images of horror. Enough articles on the suffering. What we conveniently forget is that we are all players in this horror...so those who sit and criticize should first reflect on who they have voted for, who they have helped and their own role in the recovery efforts. May you live a long and happy life...and may we all pay respect to those lost by being positive contributors to a better tomorrow.

Jan. 27 2010 05:48 PM
Ex-UN Staff from Paris

Another highly paid UN worker raising his pathetic voice and having his friends testify how indispensable he his. How about letting people speak that actually have a concept how to improve the countries situation in the future, with knowledge and hard work instead of publicity and fake sympathy.
Good Luck World.

Jan. 27 2010 04:54 PM
Neetu from Washington

Totally unsurprised and honestly one should always expect people to dog what you hold up and lift up what you criticize- it's contrarianism simple and plain. People want to hear more stories of people who actually lost everything, and that is fine. They are out there, and I read many of them. They are heart wrenching. Here is one for starters: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8456913.stm.
Hearing these stories is not mutually exclusive from getting other narratives- and in this one, the person never disowns his privilege- he would not be in NYC if he hadn't had a UN pass, but it is also a window into the days after the earthquake of what the airport was like, how people had to use cunning to get anywhere, and how decimated the UN staff and HQ were- the more stories and perspectives, the better, no? Why does it need to be this or that, black or white? Of course, since Gabo talked about how he only escaped through sheer luck, cunning, and the brilliant use of a UN pass- they will yell that this is not reflective of true suffering- had Gabo stayed and suffered more, and been Haitian- maybe there would be a story somewhere in there. Thanks for sharing your story Gabo- a brighter one than most coming out of Haiti right now. Also it makes me proud that someone who has been through this would go back without much hesitation- many people would not.

Jan. 27 2010 02:02 PM
Jillian from Caribbean

It is unpleasantly surprising that people are so quick to criticize. I think Gabo should be commended for the work that landed him in Haiti in the first place, and that is peace-keeping in a country long forgotten by most of the rest of the world. I think his account is nothing but starkly honest. Perhaps he did not lose his family or a place to stay in another country, in this tragedy, but having lost close friends, co-workers, his home, all of his belongings, and his ability to continue to help the people around him has got to be devastating. It is obvious when people jump to criticize so quickly, in particular from un-informed vantage points, that they do so to make themselves somehow feel temporarily better. As if criticizing the interviewer or interviewee somehow means YOU did something to help the suffering people of Haiti, before or after the earthquake struck.

Jan. 27 2010 01:46 PM
Gabo from NYC

Sorry to you all that I am alive and well, and not poor and destitute. Sorry for not continuing to feed your need for a pornography of poverty and suffering.

Jan. 27 2010 12:57 PM

The interview was embarrassing. The UN staff does extraordinary work in Haiti until tremendously difficult conditions, but let's be real. Celeste commented at the end of the story that Gabo had lost "everything." Well no, not exactly. Take a look at the front page of the NY Times today where there is a heartwrenching piece about child survivors of the earthquake and then let's talk about losing... everthing.

Jan. 27 2010 11:06 AM
Ben from Brooklyn

While I am encouraged to hear Gabo survived, you could not have picked a more privileged and uncommon survival story. He has duel citizenship, a home in New York, a job (unlike most Haitians), a UN salary, an escape on a private jet, and the ability to leave the chaos behind. All this and he only picked up a little dysentery. To get a real story about a Haitian survival story, how about leaving NYC and actually speaking to a real Haitian who cannot leave, and not another privileged New Yorker.

Jan. 27 2010 07:57 AM

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